Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, founded around 307 BC. Epicurus was an atomic materialist, following in the steps of Democritus. His materialism led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention.
“Let no one be slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor weary in the search of it when he has grown old. For no age is too early or too late for the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has not yet come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or that it is now no more. Therefore, both old and young alike ought to seek wisdom, the former in order that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good things because of the grace of what has been, and the latter in order that, while he is young, he may at the same time be old, because he has no fear of the things which are to come. So we must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that be absent, all our actions are directed towards attaining it.” —Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus
Epicurus about human happiness:
- Happiness is Pleasure; all things are to be done for the sake of the pleasant feelings associated with them
- False beliefs produce unnecessary pain; among them, that the gods will punish us and that death is something to be feared
- There are necessary and unnecessary desires. Necessary desires, like desiring to be free from bodily pain, help in producing happiness, whereas unnecessary desires, like desiring a bigger car or a more luxurious meal, typically produce unhappiness
- The aim is not the positive pursuit of pleasure but rather the absence of pain, a neutral state he calls “ataraxia,” which is freedom from all worry, often translated simply as “inner tranquility.”
- This state of ataraxia can be achieved through philosophical contemplation rather than through pursuit of crass physical pleasures
- Happiness is not a private affair: it can be more readily achieved in a society where like-minded individuals band together to help inspire one another’s pursuit of happiness.
Epicurus on wisdom and morality:
This opens the materialistic physical paths of peace and serenity, ataraxia, namely the absence of disorder and anxiety.
First, we need not fear the gods, who are blessed and immortal beings. But we must also penetrate the idea that death does not concern us at all.
– That means, in fact, dead? dissolution and the permanent loss of sensitivity, a single episode that does not physically disturb us.
– Being dead is to be dissolved, that is to say, be devoid of feeling.
– But we have no reason to experience the anxiety about a simple physiological fact.
– Death is the death of death, since, once dead, we do not think of.
The only real thing before us is the pleasure, enjoyment stable and painless, with roots in the body and in the flesh.
– “The pleasure we have in mind is characterized by the absence of bodily pain and disorders of the soul.”
– The pleasure is at rest and in equilibrium: the search for natural pleasures wise and necessary, generating a stable enjoyment, natural and peaceful.